Once a month for most of the year a group of practitioners meet to join practical art to art history – with a brush. In order to understand what the past has to teach, these day courses are designed to help painters explore the techniques of the past, and more importantly discover how those skills might further a painter’s own work.
It all started with Turner, whose exhibition Turner in the North was showing at The Bowes. As a painting tutor who writes about art, I was being asked by my students about Turner’s methods and so I started researching Turners life and work – and became quite passionate about it!
Accordingly I offered The Bowes a day on Turner’s watercolour methods, and that became nine day courses! People also began to ask about other artists too. Meeting with Emma House, the then curator of watercolours, I offered to teach more day courses linked both to paintings in the permanent collection and to the current exhibitions.
Since then there have been days on works hanging in the Bowes: Eugene Boudin (Monet’s mentor) and Alfred Sisley the Impressionist, among others. Other days have looked at John Piper, Julian Opie, Munnings, Turner’s oils, John Sell Cotman and David Cox, all of which were connected with travelling exhibitions showing at The Bowes.
With all artists, the times they lived in had a direct bearing on the works they produced, so I then researched and presented days on drawing methods as well as watercolour and oils. There have been days spent painting in oils in the manner of seventeenth century still life. Once we even studied drapery with a model dressed as Josephine Bowes.
Turner himself studied many works by Claude the seventeenth century landscape painter, and then developed what he learnt and took it further; this is how artists in the past trod their own paths of creativity. I always stress that the experience of exploring the past should not be merely copying, but truly enriching and pushing creativity further on. It is a fascinating and rewarding way to ‘do’ art history.
By Linda Birch, Artist